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The Death Of Books?

The Life Of Kindle...
Wednesday 21 July 2010.

Yup, it’s official! Books made of paper bound in cardboard (or leather if you have the money) are now a thing of the past. Amazon has announced that digital books, to be read on its hand-held ’Kindle’ reader are now outselling hardbacks.

I guess I might as well pulp all the waste paper that’s cluttering up my bookshelves. It’s old technology, outmoded, yesterday’s dross. From now on, my life will be lived vicariously on a screen. Here I sit at my computer all day, reading words on a screen. In the evening I’ll turn on the TV and look at people on a screen. If I want entertainment, I can play games on a screen. I can phone people and play ‘apps’ on a screen. And finally, the last piece in the jigsaw, I can read books on a screen!

OK, let me be honest here. I don’t own a Kindle, I don’t own an iPhone and I rarely watch TV. But I do like, love, adore, roll over on my back and kick my little paws in the air for the sheer joy of reading books. Books to me are not disposable items - browsed today, forgotten tomorrow. They are doorways into other people’s imaginations, repositories of knowledge and ideas, a means both of blotting out and illuminating the good, the bad and the hitherto unknown in life, the universe and everything. I give to a book far more attention than I give to the vast majority of the text that floats into and out of my vision each day on the screen of my PC. Books, in summary, are special. And I really, really don’t want to read them on a Kindle.

Electronic readers have their uses and I can imagine the day when I may even be tempted to buy one. I have no great desire to carry around a library of dictionaries, programming books and other reference works when I’m travelling. And a Kindle would be a wonderful way of taking masses of information without lugging around a trunk full of books. I can also imagine reading newspapers, magazines and (just about) short stories on a Kindle. But can I imagine settling down to enjoy a substantial novel by Dostoyevsky, Stieg Larsson or Stephen King? No I can’t. I can’t even imagine reading a shortish Ed McBain or P G Wodehouse novel on the thing.

To some extent, my prejudices have a practical basis: books are easier to read in the bath and they come in all different shapes and sizes appropriate to their content (a small pocket dictionary, a big glossy photographic guide to the plants of Madagascar etc.). But there is more than that. Books are a departure from the digital world in which I otherwise live. I take out a book when all the screens in my house are dimmed. I sit in an armchair, I find the place where I placed my bookmark, I carefully open to that page and I slowly sink myself into a world where only ink on paper stands between me and someone else’s version of reality.

In short, I love the medium as well as the message.

It’s significant that Amazon claims its Kindle eBooks are now outselling hardbacks. I suspect they have a long way to go before they outsell paperbacks. Hardbacks are, on the whole, rather expensive. And there are, to be frank, some pretty poorly made hardbacks around which are, to all intents and purposes, just paperbacks stuck between thick cardboard covers.

If only more hardbacks were properly bound and printed on good quality paper and sold at a reasonable price, maybe more people would buy them. If you want to enjoy a good hardback, I recommend that you try one from the Everyman series. You have a broad choice of authors - everyone from Dostoyevsky and Dickens to P G Wodehouse and Cormac McCarthy. I honestly find it very hard to believe that given the choice between one of those beautiful Everyman hardbacks and the Kindle version anyone would choose the Kindle one.

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  • The Death Of Books?
    27 December 2010

    It’s happening for me, I’m getting into reading on sreen. Particularly hardcovers, which are a pain to lug around.

    Why and how? I’m starting to read more and more on my iphone, never mind the too-small screen. For same reason as pictures: it got it with me. With a book, or a camera, you must remember to bring something extra. I’m now reading stuff all the times in places where I must wait for something. On the toilet at work, waiting in the car for someone I’m giving a lift...perhaps at a boring powerpoint presentation. If it’s interesting, it’s still easy to concentrate.

    As camera phones are not replacing SLRs, so isn’t reading on screen replacing real books for those who really love reading.

    Armchair, cognac, chocolates, (cigar?), book. Can’t beat that.

  • The Death Of Books?
    11 August 2010

    For me audio-books have pretty much replaced both hardbacks and paperbacks as far as fiction is concerned. Books on programming languages and software products are best read in pdf on the same computer you run those products/languages on. I do still prefer to read history books in hard copy for some reason though.

  • The Death Of Books?
    4 August 2010, by John Doe

    Not for me they are not!

    Paper/Hardbacks will never be replaced by kindle or anything alike by myself, ebook readers and the laughable IPAD are just not as comfortable to read as a proper paper book, so as long as I live Amazon will continue to have at least one person supporting their sales of paper books.

    I had one arrive yesterday (The D Programming Language)

    • The Death Of Books?
      4 August 2010, by anon

      The D Programming Language by Andrei Alexandrescu

      This book is well worth a review, a fascinating insight in to the world of D 2.0 and no I do not work for Andrei or Walter Bright ;p but seriously surprised you guys haven’t done a review for this book yet.

      • The Death Of Books?
        4 August 2010, by Huw Collingbourne

        We have covered D quite a bit - e.g. http://www.bitwisemag.com/copy/prog... and http://www.bitwisemag.com/copy/prog... but not for a while. I’ll see if we can rustle up a review copy of this book :-)

        • The Death Of Books?
          5 August 2010, by anon

          Yes I have read all about the D coverage and the great OOP debate, have to say I am with Dermot regards oop, opp should not be a forced religion, it should be used where it makes sense, one of the reasons I love C/C++, but after playing with D and I am reading the book mentioned by the other guy and have to say it is brilliant, well written not condescending and very insightful.

          D certainly seems to have picked up pace and from what I have found so far it will replace Java, C/C++ in the foreseeable future if it gets enough coverage and support, VM’s have their uses but why bother if you can get the same power natively.

          BTW not seen anything from Dermot since 2008, is he still about?

          • The Death Of Books?
            5 August 2010, by Huw Collingbourne

            Yes, Dermot is still around. he’s the chief architect of my company’s Flash Platform IDE, Amethyst ( http://www.sapphiresteel.com ) so has been somewhat busy for the last couple of years. I think I may persuade him to write a few more things for Bitwise in the near future though!



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